Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Brighton Pavilion

Despite a thorough search of Brighton’s shoreline I couldn’t find the Zap club. Apparently it closed down a few years ago. The West Pier burst into flames in 2003 and now looks like this:

The authorities want to turn it into a 183 m observation tower designed by the London Eye architects. Many of the locals do not approve.

Since Jessica's mother told me at breakfast that morning in December 1990 not to miss the Brighton Pavilion before returning to London, I’ve often felt I should honour that commitment, expressed over the eggs and the coffee, to visit properly; to see more than the outside.

So I did, and felt a circle close.

Actually, if I'd gone as instructed that morning; if I hadn't instead spent two hours writing theological notes in a hard-backed blue notebook in a forgotten cafe in the Lanes, who knows how my subsequent life might have been different.

Perhaps in our interior private narratives we all divide our lives according to specifically 'significant moments’, subjectively rendered; moments that have nothing to do with the offficial demarcations littering the public account of our lives -such as when we got our first job, owned our first car, graduated from University or bought our first house. All that Babylonian baloney, disastrously dull, existentially void as it is.

I don’t speak of those Semi-private moments we can share and relate to, moments such as when you first had a real snog, or a fag - if you did, or first got totally smashed; or when you lost your virginity or, more loftily, first fell in love, feeling the disabling hand of Eros upon you.

I mean those moments which while in themselves not constituting much - such as a decision not to visit a historical building - can, when situated in the context of the chain of events of which they form a part, assume a possibly epic importance, on account of the grand significance of what lies at the end of that chain: a life changing, life demarcating moment.

It is not that I totally regret the change that happened to me all those years ago; though nor do I entirely relish it. Something in me died that winter of 1990, something I miss and mourn, and would like to resurrect. Even though something else, entirely novel, was born and blossomed, breathing into me an ineffable splendour that took me by surprise.

My official CV is not much really, though I can boast it's pretty thin on lies (on marketed manipulation, if you’d prefer); but I think I might work on an official, alternative CV, charting the formally irrelevant, truly significant (for me anyway, from my perspective) modes and episodes of this existence which I happen to be embodying, for reasons I cannot recall. Why is it that all that we are is what we can be used for, by the world of work

By the world of generation

By the world of copulation and death.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Not Religious

From my last post it seems that I am a religious lunatic.

Nicky told me when I was at Durham that I'd always have problems with women because they'd always be jealous of my relationship with God. Women, she said, want to come first in a man's life, and sense that with me they wouldn't.

Does that make God a contraceptive?

Actually, I've never understood myself as a religious person. Which may or may not make sense, given the things I write.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

By The Way

From what I understand from May’s comment, my readers' interest, as opposed to just May’s, might extend to Jessica after all. Maybe I’ll write more on her soon, though no promises.

By the way…..

I recently found the following piece of writing. It concerns the bearded or not so bearded one in the sky. I wrote it in the otherwise unproductive year of 1999, while I was living and suffering a grubby, lost existence in Islington, though my life did have its moments of light.

Or at least I’m pretty sure I wrote it. I’ve edited it and added to it to improve it, though generally I don’t like changing my old writings too much. For those ill-disposed to abstraction it will be desperately dull, no doubt. Thank God the concrete is abundantly provided for on the rest of the web.

‘It is one thing to believe God does not exist. It’s quite another to refuse existence to that whole category of human feelings, sensitivities, intuitions and desires which for thousands of years have attached themselves in love and loyalty to the notion of God.

Yet in dismissing God as a fantasy, can we be certain the atheist doesn’t also bury and deny, intentionally or not, the reality of this dimension of humanity which understands itself as directed toward God. If the atheist has such a destructive intention, we can not only reprimand him for an unjustified identification of distinct mental entities, for fallaciously deducing the non-existence of 'the aspiration towards God' from 'their own belief that God does not exist'; we can also charge him, moreover, with a grotesque flight from the principles of empiricism (for without doubt, humanity possesses this aspiration towards the divine). We might accuse him also of wishing to impose his own conception of an ideal humanity on the real humanity which confronts and surrounds him; and therefore, in his own way, of behaving like a God, attributing to his own finite suppositions an objective importance greater than they possess.

Roger Scruton tells us that "consolation from imaginary things is not an imaginary consolation". We might add that aspiration to the stature, beauty and perfection of imaginary things is not an imaginary aspiration.

But then, how do we know these things are entirely imaginary anyway?

Perhaps God exists, perhaps he doesn't. Perhaps we don't even know what "exist" means; not even for empirically attestable objects let alone entities that may arrogantly, stubbornly defy the scope and access of our senses and comprehension; and perhaps we don't even know what we mean by God? Perhaps we're not even sure what we're questioning when we ask if God exists or not; or know what we're searching for when we seek proofs of the reality of this hypothesis?

But whether or not God exists, what certainly does is this facility in man to apprehend his experience and involvements with the world in concepts rich and pregnant in meaning, loftiness, beauty, transcendent ideation; with words and symbols that lack an immediate, physical functionality and which, conscious of their own inadequacy, shy away from any too exact claim over the universe."

I’m almost certain I wrote this (I’ve edited it a bit); though I don’t clearly remember doing so. It would be very embarrassing to find out I didn’t! If I did, and I believe I did, it’s one of the only things I wrote in the late 90s, when I wrote hardly anything, not even to friends, not even to Lee, nor even to david.

How I’d today express this piece’s central idea is to say that if we get rid of God we must also get rid of an essential part of our human nature; that part which has only ever understood itself, and known itself, to stand in an intimate relation with an external, transcendent ‘other’. When this external other is excised from the fabric of our universes, so too are those elements of our selves with which it had communed. The effect of that excision is that we must become diminished; as we have become diminished, as atheism, and its consequence, narcissism, or the ‘idolatry of the ego’s self-image’, has taken on more and more of a hold.

Not that I’ve got anything that much against atheists, mind. They serve their purposes. They give the Religious Idolators, who construct God in their own, flawed images, the raw deal they deserve. As regards the rest of us, they help clear out the clutter collecting on the face of the void; the void, the portal of the divine, the gateway to plenitude, the other side of void. For example, atheists are usually equally as dismissive of the occult and magic and other obstacles to communion with God, as they are of God himself.

Still, that said, with respect to atheists - and I have a lot of respect for atheists by the way, especially for their often ethically based motivations - I’ve never understood what atheism means. How can you deny God unless you know what this God is you’re denying. And if you know what God is, wouldn’t that be because you’d met him; or, alternatively, because you’d identified God with the ideas of someone else who had, or claimed he had. But if you have met him, wouldn’t that be because he exists? And if what you are denying is just someone else’s ideas, mediated by mere words, what is the reason to presume God as he is in-himself (presuming he exists) is this “God” of this person’s ideas about God?

If I say God is X, you might think X is ludicrous, that X does not exist. All the while I might be mistaken to think God is X because God is in fact Z. But because all you can imaginatively accommodate about the notion of God is my presentation of X-as-God, in your denial of X-as-God you also deny the very possibility that God might be Z.

I like to think of this as the pitch having been queered for everybody else, everybody else meaning other possibilities regarding the nature and reality of God.

Oh well, coffees must be made, coffees must be drunk. The earth and its claims return and descend to the concrete I must. Not that I have any objections. The concrete can be marvellous.

Monday, January 14, 2008


I thought I was going to write about Jessica but then thought, no, it would bore you and be too labyrinthine a task in any case. Suffice it to say she was never my girlfriend. But of all those women who have, by the power of imagination, projection, fantasy, if not downright delusion, meant a very great deal to me over the years, she, without doubt, towers over the others in significance. My baptizing her, according to the whims and extravagances of my sometimes mytho-poetic mind, The Queen of Light (see ‘The Battle of Evermore’ by Led Zeppelin) suggests the degree of my engagement with her as what one friend termed an ‘icon of the mind’. I have not seen her in seventeen years, not spoken to her in fifteen, and am unsure whether her response to my name would be one of indifference or distaste. I absolutely wish her the very best and have only a vague idea of what she is up to. Probably we will never meet again, or be in contact again but you never know.

Life moves in stages, on different levels; the stages are temporal disjunctions, the levels spatial, relating to layers of consciousness. In all kinds of unclassifiable ways these stages and levels interpenetrate and interconnect. Life moves forward, and backwards, in spirals and whirlpools, in sudden, vivid epiphanies, along opaque corridors of forgetfulness. At moments we return to ourselves. We wonder where we had been; at others we bunker down in focused attention on whatever particular room of the mansion of our lives we happen to be currently alighting in, fragmented and happily, or unhappily, bereft of a larger view.

If we were God or if God does not exist we were nonetheless God, we could see and reflect on our lives from the outside, as if on stories in a novel. It might be thought, beyond the reach of proof to confirm or deny, that our lives are already in the process of being reflected upon by a consciousness normally inaccessible to us. Possibly this consciousness itself is us; a larger, truer, timeless self dipping into life in each of our incarnations, which knows itself as someone venturing into lives as an adventurer to explore new lands, receive new experiences, before returning to itself between lives to recoup and assess, to re-gather its poise. Or, if reincarnation is not true, this consciousness would not be us. It would be a larger ocean of a shared universal life that sees the incidences of specific human life as additions to its developing, expanding experience. I wouldn’t be surprised, the universe being paradoxical as it is, if the truth comprised both of these these models.

What seems clear to me is that life is not only linear; that the linearity it obviously possesses, though real, is only a part of the picture. Eternity takes up residence in time, infinity inhabits the finite. The way they do this defies scientifically verifiable empirical observation. In consequence, the possibility that they might do this, that eternity and infinity might live amidst and alongside us, becomes an irrelevant proposition to the scientists, whose criterion of the value of a purported ‘thing’, as a hypothesis, is that it be locatable to a lense, the lense of the reductive, dissecting intellect.

That the human mind should in this way presume itself sovereign over the universe, such as to be entitled to decide what is and is not real, is to me suggestive of a very funny arrogance. Funny and also tragic, funny and also invalid.

The eye can only see what the eye can see, the ear can only hear what the ear can hear. Does this mean that what the eye can see determines all that potentially might be seen? That what the ear can hear legislates all that potentially might be heard. Only, surely, if we believe our eyes and ears are all that any eye or any ear could be, that no richer, broader perceptual faculty might potentially exist?

That our eyes and ears area as good as they get seems to be what science presumes as a working basis for its empirical, sense based discoveries.

It is not that what science has discovered about the world is wrong. Rather this discovery is related only to a particular level and style of perception; it is related to a mind configured in a particular way. If the mind were different, the level and style of perception that the mind animated and discharged, sent out into the world, would be different; the eyes and the ears would be different, and so in consequence would the world they’d encounter.

As I see things, what lies behind the senses is the mind, and that what lies behind the mind is the….well….

Blake talks of how if the human senses were ‘cleansed’ we would see all things as they are, ‘infinite’. This implies that we see things as they are, finite, because our senses are ‘dirty’. That sounds a little derogatory and dismissive, but you get the point.

Is there then something wrong with our senses? Well, perhaps it depends on what we think the senses are for. Are they intended to understand the world as it presents itself to the senses, or to understand the world as it could, as it might, present itself to the senses?

Is the world that externally, objectively surrounds us a fixed final authority and are we the merely passive, inert taxonomists of it? If this is the case, if our interaction with the world is not essential to the final reality of what the world is, then it behooves us to be internally sterile, to rid ourselves of any potentially distorting influences of nuance, subjective, existential nuances that would render our senses other than entirely collative.

This, it seems to me, is a presumptive, initial stance and outlook that Newtonian mechanistic science has always rooted itself in. Why it decided to take up this vantage point – that we are external to and uninvolved in the world we describe - is a matter of intellectual history. But that it has done so seems clear to me. It was a choice it made, and this choice was just one choice that it might have made.

That choice imposed a default setting of interpretation on the cognitive potentiality of the mind as it reached out through the senses to perceive and understand the world. That choice configured the mind of the scientist to be the mind that it is.

To me, what Blake meant by implying that the sense are ‘dirty’ is that they are obscured and misty, such that the world they perceive is then necessarily opaque. That opaqueness constitutes the absence of the perception of a vivid, unitive, translucent, shared animation lying within the heart of all phenomena. The world is perceived as a collection of discrete, separated entities, each foundationally alienated from every other, all unrelated to one another, unless they be related through the processes which we understand to be ‘cause and effect’. The background, the presupposition, is void. The event that is life is the interaction of the essentially distinct in moments of collision.

The world that is perceived is a reflection of the mind. This mind, through the senses, is brought to the world. Ironically, while the scientists thought they were bringing the world to the mind, in fact they did the reverse. Projecting its own lifelessness and cold, hard clinicism onto externality, is it any wonder that what the mind, in the world, discovered was cold, hard and clinical.

The irony was that the scientists were trying to reverse the insult they felt had already been wrought on the world before them by centuries of another, very particular, kind of projection, namely superstition, allied to the father of lies, religion. The mind was accused and convicted of having ‘made shit up’ about the world. In reaction to this, motivated by whatever it was motivated by, the mind then determined to reverse this insult; and so it did so, and so denied everything that had formerly been believed (ok, in stages, fearing inquisitors) and proceeded to make up, amusingly, a different kind of shit about the world (excuse my French), most essentially that it is the reflection of the desertlands of the heart.

To me, God, in so far as God ‘exists’ - whatever ‘exists’ means in terms of that which is uncreated, outside time and outside space - is a point of contact in the human soul that lies behind the heart, that lies behind the mind, that lies behind the senses, wherein the infinite and the eternal take on life and breathe. No, I am not saying God is ‘only’ found in this soul beneath the heart. God also enjoys himself in distant galaxies and playing fields of joy far, far from our tawdry, low existences. But in so far as God is relevant and real to us, this is where he meets us.

But God, surprisingly or not, is a gentleman. He does not force himself upon us. That said, some of his purported representatives, have at times maintained he does and that a gentleman is what he is not. God, I maintain, has a very particular kind of business to pursue with these deceivers (though its ok, they need not fear overmuch, though shutting up might be a good idea). As for the rest of us, all that is wondered by God, I am supposing, is whether we might like to wake up to him, to her, to it, to that which is God, and to perceive a universe as wondrous and as joyful as he is. Or she or it, if you insist.

It would at least, if nothing else, make a change, which can’t be all bad, I would suggest.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Albion: Part Three

Going to Brighton has happened quite a few times. Though this was my first time since New year's Eve 1999, that first, fake millennium celebration.

My first sight of the town, however, was from a ferry passing by on its way to France. At the time I remember being told Brighton was the location of a nudist beach. From then this idea always formed my underlying conception of the town.

My history with Brighton, as I say, goes back a long way.

In 1990 my elder sister was going out with a first generation Trance DJ, a man of the Rave. He helped bring pumping, tribal elysium to the masses, with and without the assistance of ‘Ecstasy’, a drug fresh on the scene. For many months he’d travel down, in his trusty truck, from Cambridge to Brighton to perform at the ‘Zap Club’, a famous Brighton night spot, right on the beach.

Richard - not his real name - was a cool guy. I was fond of him. An ex-heroin addict, his level-headed, passive brand of atheism (‘don’t get me started on Religion’) dislodged him from standard patterns of response, at least to my perception. I remember he introduced me to ‘Crucial Brew’, a beer exceeding Carling Special Brew in strength, though no match, of course, for Gold Label (at 10% surely more of a wine than a beer?).

Actually, on my suggestion, his merry band of trance-facilitators were hired, in February 1989 by my progressive Public school, The Leys, to perform for a Party function. Did we call it a Disco, a Rave or a Bop…? I forget. All went well. Although I, unlike others, kissed no girls on that night, as usual, I did get utterly smashed, of which I believe there’s photographic evidence somewhere in the world, or at least used to be. I forget how the prohibited alcohol we sank was accessed, whether or not we smuggled some in; but it was always possible, as we knew, and presumably the teachers too, to get liquor outside with ease.

I must have gone to Brighton on about three occasions in those misty ‘Gap Year’ days of late 89, early 90, before disappearing to South America for three months. At this time, of course, dancing to tribal vibrations was a novelty for everyone. The Madchester phenonema had not yet begun, nor had the Rave scene been properly commercialised; an innocence, moreover, collected around raving, since grey beards and Jeremiahs of killjoy, Daily Mail persuasions had not yet roused themselves fully from slumber. Even I, an 18 year old, appreciated its allure, despite my musical centre of gravity resting firmly with the The Smiths and The Doors, within a scattering of REM and THE THE.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get to see much of Brighton by day; though I do remember one morning, after a long night’s dancing, the beauty and felicity, encouraged by Ecstasy, of the sights and sounds of the morning dawn washing in from the sea. A sumptious, young blonde, danced alone on the beach, in silence, for hours, entirely captivating me.

The next time I went to Brighton was in late 1990, only two days before my brief, dramatic ‘encounter’ with The Unification Church, of which more perhaps later. I had gone there to stay with Jessica.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Albion: Part Two

I found the house eventually, after getting precise, assertively voiced directions from what nowadays might insultingly be termed a ‘chav’.

Staying with Lee and his girlfriend was a Scottish guy who wore a hat inside and who’s name I forget. He let me in before Lee turned up. He kindly offered me a can of Stella Artois, twice. For curious reasons I declined. Perhaps I was worried about the size of my stomach. I often am. He was sympathetically intrigued that I live in Kuwait and made sure to tell me I should drink as much beer as I could before its too late.

As usual I ended up wanting to be at least in some way deep or serious. I asked him what it’s like for him, a Scot, to live in England. He said it was fine, which reassured me. After being told by Paul, an Englishman living near Aberdeen, but now temporarily working in Kuwait, that the Scots want nothing to do with England, it was pleasing to meet a Scot who didn’t hate the English or their land. I asked him what he thought about Scottish Independence, and whether he wanted it. I was surprised to hear he didn’t, that he thought Britain was a good system as it stood and that Scotland benefits from the Union. I wanted to make sure he was entirely Scottish himself, by ancestry; yes, he was.

Perhaps I’m a little too paranoid about Celtic perceptions of the Anglo-Saxons. I’m wondering if such a paranoia is widespread amongst the English. In so far as it exists, might it be the flip side of the coin, the inverse, of that much more distastefully smug, condescending English supremacist bearing we’re told characterises, and no doubt to some extent does, the English man’s stance towards his Celtic fellow nationals. Such a paranoia would involve an exaggerated estimation of the Celts’ sense of grievance towards England’s policies towards Wales, Scotland and Ireland over the centuries. It might be linked, in so far as it’s felt, to an English guilt and a shame over that historical record. On the other hand, maybe it’s not a paranoia; maybe it’s a justified fear –maybe there is no exaggeration. Maybe the Celts really do hate the English, or at least some of them, or most of them? I wouldn’t want to say. This is for the Celts to say.

Certainly, as an Englishman, of as far as I know largely non-Celtic ancetry*, I do feel guilty about, and ashamed of, England’s treatment of the non-English Britannic peoples. By ‘Britannic peoples’ I speak strictly of the inhabitants of the ‘British Isles’. Regrettably or not, this is the only collective term I’m aware of for the two, largish, off-shore Islands to the north west of Europe. I totally understand how such a term used to cover The Republic of Ireland might be annoying to Irish people and regret it on that account. Would we prefer ‘The Blessed Isles’, or would that suggest an irksome Pan- Anglo-Saxon-Celtic supremacism I wonder?

That said, I’m not sure what’s to be gained from my beating myself or my country up over this issue; or for me or my country to be beaten up over it. Here, by ‘my country’ I mean specifically England, even though in a different sense I understand my country to be ‘Britain’ and myself to be a Briton.

In principle I’m as opposed to vengeance as I am to judgementalism, given that I intentionally launch my mind on a trajectory seeking a home in a higher, greater, nobler world in which people can love one another not in theory or fantasy but reality, motivated in this as I am by the central man in my life, Jesus Christ. As I see things, we are all sinners, none of us have the right to judge and so all should forgive. While I accept it might in ways be a bitter pill for the Celts to swallow, I don’t see how a policy other than forgiving the English, in their hearts, for the past is a constructive or positive way forward, especially with regard to the extent to which we ourselves express regret for that past. I can see how this might be seen as very patronizing and smug of me; how it might be thought that the powerful and the dominant requesting forgiveness from the subdued for having been dominated might be construed by the subdued as a clever, devious tactic on the part of the powerful to legitimize their dominance- by way of exalted, religiously nuaced high sentiments- to encourage compliance on the part of the subdued to their fate; but I’m not sure it has to be seen in this light.

I also should say I do not wish to speak for England here, as some imagined representative, so please don't blame England or The English if you don't like what I say. I am an Englishman only after first being a human being. Sometimes, of course, I wonder whether it's even accurate to call myself a human being. I don't mean thereby to claim some more exalted status, though it's certainly true I have on occasions been the experiencer of 'delusions of grandeur', for sure. What I really mean is that in terms of the way I see myself, my essence precedes and is independent of my categorisation. My categorisation as either this, that or the other. In that sense 'I', as what I am in-itself, is not the same as what 'I' am in terms of how I am captured or contained by a human societal, rational category. In this way, by understanding myself in this way, through my own uncapturableness, I am allowed to keep open the window of access in myself, regarding myself, to the transcendent, as it were, to the infinite, to the unconditioned. Yes I am English, yes I am British, yes I am European, yes I am a Westerner, yes I am a man (as opposed to a woman), yes I am a human being, yes I am an organic embodiment, like the animals, of life on Planet Earth. But these are all items of human, finite, knowledge schemata; of systems of knowledge as perceived and projected from a human point of view. Outside of these, what I am in myself, as perceived either by other, extra-terrestrial life forms (if such exist), or else by God (presuming he exists), I can have no idea about. Indeed even if above us there is only void, this still doesn't mean I can be equated ultimately only with the categories of our systems of knowledge.

Anyway, enough stilted, political pomposity and obscure philosophy. Back to Albion, a land of my dreams.

After Northampton I went to see Lucy in Hemel Hempstead. She’d been a brief 5-day girlfriend back in my late 1990s, tawdry, Islington days. As was the case in that phase of my life, she, as the embodiment of a ‘sexual other’, apparently meant more to me than vica versa. We lost contact for a few years but the virtual worlds of Myspace and Facebook brought us back in touch, I’m glad to say. Sitting on a stool next to my embarrassingly large rucksack in a crowded pub was not an ideal venue in which to catch up, but she’s very fond of her local, and I didn’t really mind. In any case, the oddly free buffet arrangement was a real consolation. Alas I couldn’t stay long and had to rush back to London, to get the last tube and then bus back to North Greenwich.

By the way, sometimes the names I use are real and sometimes they are not. It depends on my calculation regarding whether I think they’d mind me writing about them in the way I do, a calculation which one way or the other might be mistaken.

* When I grow a beard, in so far as my hairs are not grey there is a definite tinge of red. Quite why my facial hair is a different colour from my other hair mystifies me but maybe this is normal. Anyway, perhaps this testifies to a Celtic element, or maybe the Celtic red hair connection is overblown. All I know is that my ancestors on my father's side lived in Lancashire and before that Yorkshire and maybe Cheshire back into the 13th century or so. My Mother's ancestors seem to have come from the Bristol area, and before that from around Durham, though I really don't know the details. I imagine, to be fair, that it would be more unlikely than not, that there'd be no Welsh or Scottish elements at all, but I really don't know. Does it matter, one way or the other? Not at all, not to me anyway. Would be interesting to know though.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Albion: Part One

Some highlights from the early part of my recent trip to the UK.

Walking from my sister Rachel’s Greenwich home along the River Thames to the Cutty Sark in her large blue woolen jumper, a jumper which I proceeded to wear for the next six days. She tried to persuade me to take the boat to Westminster but I wasn’t game; it was too cold, I was in a rush. These days The Cutty Sark hides invisibly within a reconstructing enclosure. It burnt down last year. Some say as part of an insurance scam because existing funds were not sufficient. Presently ‘The History Channel’ boasts its involvement in the restoration.

Buying an Oyster card. The first time for me. My welcome to the world of pre-paid London Transportation. You might think it saved you money if you ignore how inflated the undiscounted prices are.

Sitting next to, chatting with a young, posh, rich, well-connected Englishman, mid twenties, public school educated almost certainly, on an outside table at a pub in Pimlico, while smoking one of the rare cigarettes I smoke these days. It reminded me of the life I abandoned and left behind. Made me think of the sort of character I could have become if I hadn’t been me. He and his friends, when they arrived, spoke at our table of upcoming parties and private dramas involving women; but also of politics, intriguingly enough. I guessed they might all work for the Conservative party in some respect. I’d spoken to the original guy about India for awhile, before the others arrived. Then I sat there feeling excluded, but stubbornly comfortable in my seating entitlement, since I’d arrived first. They were, it must be said, exquisitely English in the politeness of their ignoring me, as was I in the control of my eye movements and discreet manner of my eavesdropping. We were both very English in the ways we said goodbye.

Seeing Liz, being with Liz – always vivid, always poignant. By all accounts she’s the life and soul of many a party, and very popular. She has a marvellous sellectionn of random collectibles in her flat, as well as mountains of books. She invited me off the cuff to go with her by train to her Parents home near Durham, but alas this was impossible because of….

My trip to Northampton (famous for shoes I hear) to visit Lee, someone I’d call my ‘best friend’ if I were in Prep School Mode. Why? Because he has a mind with which mine can express itself and expand; in a way that makes it feel it hasn’t compromised or been misunderstood, be that the case or not. Or maybe we just go back along way, to 1991, to University. Smiles and laughter always are interspersed in our talks. This keeps the sometimes random or stratospheric range of our ramblings earthed in the soil of the familiar. Over the years, he’s been famously impossible to contact, on times too numerous to mention. Not only I but his mother have again and again had no idea where he was. But he always comes back in the end. He now wears a beard, which I’d never have expected.

On the way to Lee’s house, to which I was walking, I got boringly lost so went into a Newsagents to ask for directions. The shopkeeper didn’t know where Edinburgh Road was, which was a shame –for me – but did have an array of A-Z’s for sale, either one of which would have helped in my quest. Still, I didn’t want to buy a map I wouldn’t need in about 45 seconds so asked if I could possibly have a quick look. He said no, I couldn’t. I’d have to buy a copy. I asked him why, which I suppose was rude. After all, it contravenes the apparently sacred rules of individual ownership whereby the owner of a given thing need give no explanation as to why he uses, or fails to use it, in any given way at any given time. Still, I felt like being rude, having been startled by his refusal. He had just refused me a simple, harmless request in my hour of darkness. Did he really expect me to buy a book for a simple solitary piece of information such as where one road is? Presumably yes, he did. He was shocked I’d questioned his sovereign right to refuse. He said he couldn’t just let people read his books, that it wasn’t a library. Maybe he had a point, but how often do people roll into his shop with ruck sacks, lost, I wonder? Is it a regular occurrence? Anyway, I assured him I only needed the book briefly, that I’d just arrived in town and wouldn’t be staying long; but he still said no. Really? Yes, really. I think he thought that I was going to get angry or even violent. I could see the defensiveness in his eyes, but I was just too stunned and anyway don’t like arguments. My voice was measured throughout. As I left I said I was never going to buy the book anyway but that now I’m not going to buy anything else either; to which he replied “I’m sorry, I cannot help you”, to which I replied “of course you can”, and left.